Sir David Haslam CBE (Old Hallfieldian 1956-1962, pictured centre in the banner), looks back at how his schooling paved the way for a distinguished career. With a passion for words and language fostered by his Hallfield English teacher Mr Amphlett, Sir David attributes his leadership career to his skills as a writer.
“How does a rather timid little Hallfield schoolboy end up receiving a knighthood? It’s not a career trajectory that I would have ever predicted, but two famous sayings come to mind – “The child is father to the man” and “Life is for living forwards and understanding backwards.” My career certainly wasn’t planned, and was entirely unexpected, but looking back might help unravel what happened. So this brief summary of my life will be back-to-front.
“My career probably peaked that day in Buckingham Palace. The citation for my knighthood read, “For services to NHS Leadership”, and followed six years that I had spent as Chair of NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence –taking responsibility for looking at the cost-effectiveness of treatments, and defining quality for the NHS and Social Care.
“It wasn’t a job that I would ever have expected to do, but I was asked to consider applying when working as a senior clinical adviser to the Care Quality Commission (CQC). I had met Sir Ian Kennedy, who was in the process of forming the Healthcare Commission (CQC’s predecessor) when I was President of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP). We had both been on an Any Questions panel at a political conference. As our session finished, he turned to me, said that he thought I talked sense, and would I join him as an adviser.
“The key for me has been always to turn accidents like this into opportunities, and when faced with any opportunity, I picture myself on my deathbed. Would I regret not having tried whatever the challenge is? After all, there are fewer sadder phrases than “If only”, Don’t let opportunities pass you by.
“How come I was there as President of my Royal College? This had followed three years when I had been Chairman of the College’s Council, a role that I had been elected to in 2001. I had trained as a GP at Birmingham University, and spent 36 years as a family doctor in rural Cambridgeshire. For many years I was a member of the Council of the College and I am absolutely certain that I was elected to Council and subsequently to the Chairmanship because my name was very well known to GPs. For many years I had written a weekly humorous column for GP newspaper. I loved writing, and had written a number of books, particularly on health matters, and developed an interest in broadcasting too. The key to my leadership career had been being a writer.
“At my teenage school (Monkton Combe in Somerset) I had edited, and written for, two magazines – one slightly more serious than the other. Indeed, as a nine-year-old I had produced a small newsletter for neighbours in my road in Bournville. And where had this passion for words and writing come from?
“Mr Amphlett was my English teacher at Hallfield, where I was a schoolboy between 1956 and 1962. I will never forget his response to any boy whose hand went up to ask “Can I go to the toilet?” to which he always said, “Of course you can go. That isn’t the question. The question is whether you may go?” And so, with a correction of our language, we would ask again. He taught me the precision of pedantry, the importance of words, the value of language. And everything else, indirectly, followed from that.
“Funny old world, isn’t it?”
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